Hi Friends,

Sorry to be so late getting a newsletter out but hurricanes Katrina and Rita have changed our lives forever here in Southeast Louisiana and many things are on hold.

I was looking forward to sharing with you my wonderful all-expenses paid vacation for two I’d won to Niagara Falls through an entry I’d submitted to USAirways Attache magazine. The perfect vacation. I’d invite everyone who can, to visit that magnificent marvel and the surrounding areas in our beautiful sister nation.

Before I could finish this newsletter we’d been evacuated and gone a long time so I am behind on personal plans even as we are still (Feb ’06) trying to repair damages to the house and property. More about this in next newsletter. But I’d like to start with what I’d written before the storms:

The vacation was unbelievable! Transportation to and lodging in the Marriott Fallsview Hotel, closest hotel to the Falls looking right over into Horseshoe Falls. When the wind blew just right, the delicate mist kissed our ninth-floor window! Fireworks over the Falls weren’t to start until a few weeks later but we arrived on a holiday so got to see them our first night as well as an excellent view of the lighted Falls each night.

Had so many free coupons we couldn’t use them all but did all we could. JWS used wheelchair for walking tours and we had free People Mover to get about. Did things at our leisure such as Behind the Falls and feeling the earth shake beneath that massive amount of water flowing. Got lots of exercise pushing the wheelchair up inclines and hanging on going down declines such as to “Maid of the Mist” boat ride where we were given the most prominent place for the experience.

Took a carriage ride with delightful little Irish lady, Catherine, and horse, Petey, as we toured the breathtaking beauty of the Horticultural Gardens whose graduates get jobs at the biggies – places like Buckingham Palace, etc. Flowers and flowering trees made us feel years away from stress.

Finished that day with a tour of the beautiful Butterfly Observatory where hundreds of the delicate creatures from fingernail size to bigger than my hands fluttered all around us, often landing on us! Building was designed to seem like outdoors in natural setting.

Had a number of meals supplied. Even “cuisine” doesn’t do them justice. In our hotel restaurant we were treated like royalty as the young people serving us had never seen contest winners with “no limit” and were eager for us to taste the best of the best. We didn’t want to seem greedy and were going to settle for the least but they insisted we try more and they would “wrap” leftovers for our refrigerator.

We’d begun making a transition to more vegetarian lifestyle but had this splurge with New York steak, filet mignon and lobster, escargot, etc. Imagine the next day sitting under evergreen trees in 73-degree weather eating a picnic of such items!!! And the next and the next! All the while both feeling grateful as we both remembered times as youths when each had known hunger – real hunger.

The trip and the treatment were wonderfully relaxing after a busy speaking season that included such places as Nebraska Ladies Retreat for the second time. In past years I’ve always gone to speak, worked hard, made myself available to every individual who wanted or needed to talk to me then flown home. Well, I still arrive the day before but occasionally I get to “see” something now instead of only the signs along the highway from the airport! My friend, Marian, from Omaha, took me early to the town where the retreat hotel was located so we could go to the Pioneer Museum near Kearney. With the sights and sounds recreating pioneer days it made wagon train and railroad history come alive from the West that I love so much. Plus an added benefit I saw deer out in the snow-covered fields and yards and even a bald eagle down in a creek along the interstate!

Another special was my second time to work with Ohio Health Care Association this time with Activities Directors from across the state. Kathy and her staff are so organized and friendly, nothing is left to chance. Sure takes a lot of stress off the speaker.

Can’t list everything that took place this spring but must say how nice it was to work with Brenda in Nashville, TN, and the long-term care staffs and volunteers from the Churches of Christ in the area then on to Minnie Pearl’s hometown to do a Family Night for long-term care with new friends, Trona and Troy, officers in the National Association of Activity Professionals, I met in Gatlinburg a few years ago when I was key note opening speaker at their national convention.

After the work I rented a car and drove the thirty miles north of Nashville to Gallatin, TN, stopping at the college where I’d been Coordinator and Director of Dental Services in Allied Health before entering the speaking field. How happy I was to see the program I’d worked so hard to develop from scratch is still thriving and greatly expanded. Saw a number of the wonderful folks with whom I’d worked. Glad we still recognized each other!

On to the home of church friends, Bill and Nadine and her mother, Louise. Such beautiful countryside, long rolling hills with red barns on the horse farms, loads of wild flowers, stone-bottomed creeks! Friends had been invited to get together with me for the first time in many years. What an enjoyable time we had over real Tennessee home cooking each brought then around the piano where I played and we all sang together for a couple of hours. How beautifully they sang! Several of them had sung or still sing in gospel groups.

Later Nadine sent me cuttings of her flowers I’d admired and despite the change in climate, they are growing beautifully here in Louisiana as another reminder of the happy time I had surrounded by old friends.

Back at home our Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival took place with the crowd right at 300,000! In our yard we had our usual sweet bunch of nurses from North Oaks Hospital working First Aid in two tents and the Parish Sheriff’s Deputies taking their breaks in the third tent. On the carport we had the SELARC group – South East Louisiana Amateur Radio Club members. They’d set up a Special Event station and were talking to folks on ham radio who called in from across the country. All three groups are invited back again this April.

Our out-of-state guests stayed at area motels and we did a lot of visiting while enjoying the festival together. They’d requested we have a time of worship together on Sunday morning and even the nurses came an hour early to get in on it. Jacklyn Welch Shockley presented the requested devotional then we had a long time of singing around the piano before lots of goodbye hugs.

Her daughter, Debbie, and son-in-law, Robbie, had come from North Carolina and we three had to fly out early the next morning so went on to New Orleans to spend the night courtesy of some of Robbie’s Holiday Inn reward nights! How that quiet peaceful night’s rest helped me after the busy weekend when I arrived rested at my speaking engagements!

And how surprised I’d have been to know that was to be my last flight out of New Orleans for a long, long time…

…to be continued in next newsletter!

Best wishes to all.